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Vienna plus 15 conference


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Vienna plus 15 conference

  1. 1. Suite 208, Empire Building, 10080 Jasper Ave., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5J 1V9Know Human Rights, Claim Human RightsConference Presentation to: GLOBAL STANDARDS – LOCAL ACTION 15 Years Vienna World Conference on Human Rights International Expert Conference Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Vienna Hofburg, Austria 28-29 August 2008Satya Brata Das, PrincipalCambridge Strategies Inc. 1
  2. 2. To begin, please understand the perspective and ethos that is the basis of this intervention, thesource of the bias implicit and inherent in my views. I am a Canadian of ancestry in India, thecountry of my birth, and this gives me a certain perspective on the centrality of inclusion,pluralism and diversity in any holistic vision of human rights.My act of becoming Canadian also enabled me to contribute substantially to the nationaldiscourse of what it should mean to be one. A generation ago, I was among a vanguard ofCanadians from diverse origins worried that official multicultural policy served to put people inghettoes, to encourage a benign apartheid wherein cultures were separate and equal. Thefundamentally hollow concept of “tolerance” only invited acceptance of something, it did notlead to sharing, discovery and ultimately celebration. We worried about the future of a culturalmosaic where every piece in the mosaic was separate and apart from the others.We believed there could be a means of preserving seminal identities while sharing our lives andexperiences with one another. This sat more comfortably in a country that did not believe inforcing assimilation into some overarching national mythos, as was the experience south of theborder in the United States. We were working to reshape a 1970s and early 1980s milieu where“multiculturalism” was defined as giving grants to ethnic and cultural associations to propagateand perpetuate their own traditions. We believed that this would ultimately lead to anabundance of solitudes, if there was no attempt to share across cultures, across ethnicity,across religion. And in this context, we worked to shape Canada as a grand inclusion, in whichone could maintain the bonds of heritage and ancestry while bringing them to reshape adynamic and evolving Canadian identity.In the early 1980s I wrote an article in The Edmonton Journal, titled “Multiculturalism: A KindlyApartheid?” and was roundly condemned by readers. The subject was so emotional that I couldnot successfully communicate my intent — to ensure the participation of all those culturalsolitudes in the crafting of our collective future. Yet those thoughts of inclusion prevailed andultimately succeeded in the following years. The future evoked by so many of us fighting for adifferent country, now exists in my modern Canada. A generation later, my country is one ofpluralism, multiple identities, cultural sharing, and a surging confidence in our young.It is this singularly Canadian perspective that leads me to assert that human rights’ learning isthe bedrock of inclusive, participatory, transparent, accountable and democratic governance. Itimparts the skills necessary for all people to fully participate in self-governance. It ought to bethe foundation of peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. Strengthening individual andsocietal human rights capacity through learning the holistic human rights framework is a keystrategy for conflict prevention, sustainable peace, and social and economic rehabilitation. 2
  3. 3. Given the vigour of the debate in Working Group 2 at the Hofburg Vienna on 28 and 29 August,it is useful to make concisely the distinction between learning and education: education is aformal process including, but not limited to, formal pedagogy whereas learning is a broaderconcept founded on sharing experience, knowledge and wisdom in addition to what is “taught.”Learning by its nature includes unlearning. I am participating in this conference as a founder ofthe Human Rights Cities Edmonton, and my remarks are framed in this context.The International Human Rights Cities programme is rooted in communities that have chosen toincorporate human rights into their everyday lives; to train and empower citizens to know theirhuman rights in order to claim their human rights. This is an evolutionary process, not arevolutionary one, and aims at collaboration and consensus to change the underlying valuesand attitudes that contribute to violence and misery. It thus differs from “code violation”monitoring like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch in looking for long-term changesin behaviour, rather than the mere chronicling of breaches or violations of human rights. Ratherthan an imposition, the human rights city evolves from within the community, accommodatingits unique cultural norms and behaviours, and its own approaches to consensus and coalitionbuilding. The commonality in each Human Rights City is to enable “freedom from fear” and“freedom from want” within their own communities.We further recognise that a Human Rights City, in order to succeed, needs inclusive,participatory and responsive systems of governance. This is found principally within, but notnecessarily limited to, democratic models. Yet in its essence, Democracy is strongly related tothe principles of human rights and cannot function without assuring the full respect andprotection of human dignity. More than participation and representation, it is aboutINCLUSION, the right to be fully included in the civic life of one’s community, one’s state orone’s country. How fully an individual citizen exercises the right to be included and toparticipate is at the citizen’s own discretion, yet the right cannot be denied. Along withinclusion, the notion of pluralism is at the heart of democratic governance. This is the very actof overcoming “otherness,” of affirming that many streams of human experience and of thehuman condition can live together in dignity, under the rule of law, with diversity seen as asource of strength and resiliency. In essence, none with a justified claim to citizenship or otherforms of legal residence can be denied inclusion and human dignity. This is the litmus test ofdemocracy. There is an apparent link between undemocratic structures and human rights violations. Yeteven functioning democracies can be weak if they condone the denial of human rights. Aviolation is a specific breach, but the denial of human rights – which can often be the denial ofgenuine inclusion and pluralism, is societal and systematic. Even an advanced democracy like 3
  4. 4. Canada, for instance, a perpetual leader in the United Nations Human Development Index,acknowledges that inclusion has not been achieved for its aboriginal population. In manyadvanced democracies, the full inclusion of women in circles of power and spheres of influencecontinues to be denied. In the United States, inclusion and pluralism is an ongoing struggle forminority populations and genders such as homosexuals and lesbians.Conversely, the failure of inclusion and deficiencies in the practice of pluralism can havecalamitous consequences. These were seen in widespread and violent civil unrest in France inlate 2005, origination with minority populations. It is seen in continuing tensions in Germanywith legal residents of Turkish ancestry, and indeed in the challenges of fully including citizensoriginating in the former East Germany.A complete understanding of the obligations of pluralism and inclusion is essential to thehealthy evolution of a democracy. Which is why, to this date democracy is indisputably thesystem most conducive to guaranteeing human rights protection and human security.Entrenching Human Rights Learning is really an endeavour to build human capacity, bothindividually and in communities, and to enable the blossoming of human potential. Whenhumans are happy, safe and secure, they will be better citizens, better consumers, betteremployees and better customers. Apart from a handful of egregious regimes, few governments,no matter how maladroit, would actively impose policies of fear and deprivation on the peoplethey purport to serve. There can be no accusations of “neo-colonialism” in advancing the abilityof women, men, boys and girls to live together in community with dignity—the natural“deliverable” of a holistic human rights framework based on freedom from fear and freedomfrom want. Human rights are not a “western imposed” value unless human dignity is a “westernvalue.” In this context, the Emperor Asoka in pre-Christian India posited non-violence as a wayof life, and the foundational notion of harmony in Confucian “great learning” is an essentialfoundation of “freedom from fear and freedom from want.” In this context, human rights is“too political” in the sense that any organised human society is “too political.” We may need tomove away from a “contested” term like Human Rights, and transmute it to “the Right to beHuman.” This implies a birthright that exists beyond the ambit of legal codes, governments andgovernance, and speaks to the human birthright to live together in dignity and in community.By embedding this context and framework for dialogue within, among and between individuals,collectives, institutions, and indeed societies, we can together catalyse the creation of self-learning and self-realization, whence will come one’s own tools for social and economic change.Behind the thicket of human rights norms, standards and procedures there lies the recognitionof our shared dignity as a human being and of the things that endanger this dignity. As long as 4
  5. 5. a single human being is unable to express the highest potential of what it means to be human,all of our human rights are imperiled. Once again, human rights learning secures our right to behuman. It is learning about justice and empowering people in the process. It is a societaldevelopment, civic empowerment and human development strategy that enables women,men, and children to become agents of change. It can produce the blend of ethical thinking andaction needed to cultivate public policies based on human rights and opens the possibility ofcreating a human rights culture for the 21st century. Human rights learning, in order to be transformational, must fit into the context of what thattransformation ought to achieve. Generally, we would wish it to lead to the advancement ofhuman rights, human development and human security – three overlapping and interlinkedconcepts that are the core of an alternative vision of the world. It should be noted that – takentogether – they amount to a new way of looking at the world, particularly with regard to theevolution of civil society and notions of global governance. Rather than an international orderpredicated on relationships between nations, this model goes beyond political boundaries toadvocate the wellbeing of the individual citizen, no matter where she lives. Human rightsimplies freedom from fear and threats to one’s fundamental existence. Human developmentasserts a claim to the resources and freedoms one needs to develop to one’s full potential. Andhuman security evokes freedom from hunger, war, ecological disaster, corrupt governance andother impediments to a life lived in justice, with equality of opportunity for all. This visiondeparts from those notions of nation-states guaranteeing security by building significantmilitary capacity, and using economic prowess to secure their own prosperity with scant regardfor the progress of others.Our ultimate goal in human rights learning was aptly launched on the 60th anniversary of theUniversal Declaration and in this Year of International Human Rights Learning as designated bya resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. The goal is to engender societal, civic,economic, and political changes at all levels that serve to reclaim and secure the mostcomprehensive and fundamental of human rights—the right to be human. This in turn createshappy, secure and productive citizens, living in stable and attractive communities. In essence: • A Human Rights City is a civic space wherein all citizens learn to use the human rights framework to influence the life of the community, realizing our mutual responsibilities to one another as citizens and as a community. • People learn about human rights as a holistic vision relevant to their daily lives and as a way of life. Social transformation resulting from the learning process strengthens the foundation for a society where all citizens can fulfill their aspirations and potentials. 5
  6. 6. • Through dialogue and learning, people move from information to knowledge to consciousness about the imperatives of social justice and the dignity of life. • They work together to strengthen democracy as a delivery system of human rights. In the words of Nelson Mandela: Developing a new political culture based on human rights.In the present international order, we know idealism and the intention to do well is not enough.We need to frame our compelling arguments for human rights learning in the context of a“business case” if we are to engage and ultimately change the attitudes of those in power. Thepurveyors of capital and the prophets of market economies must be made to see that a holistichuman rights culture is to their advantage, and in embracing human rights learning they arechoosing to be on the right side of history. Our challenge is to create an argument whichunderscores both the economic and the social need for investment in communities aiming tobuild lives marked by Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want. A key element which mustbe considered in societal development initiatives is what are the consequences of failing tomake the investment? In a societal-development investment model, a central measure of ROI(Return On Investment) is the quantifiable improvement in the quality of life, and thebetterment of both circumstance and opportunity. Mechanisms such as Genuine ProgressIndicators (GPI) are used to quantify the return on a societal-development business case, ratherthan traditional private-sector means. These sorts of measures, which can be captured by a GPIsuch as the one developed by the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development(, should be included in any evaluation of return oninvestment for the purposes of this business case.Instances of outcomes that could be measured, in looking at ROIs in a community revitalizationbasis, are changes in poverty levels, income distribution, volunteerism, commuting, crime, druguse, suicide, problem gambling, free time, parenting and eldercare, premature mortality, infantmortality, educational attainment and voter participation. In some cases there is a chance toconsider better environmental outcomes and impacts as well. None of these outcomes aresingularly economic, social or environmental but they are all interlinked and interdependent.Neither are the means to achieve the identified and desired outcomes subject to simple,quantifiable linear measurements. They often involve longer timeframes and terms than mostprivate-sector business case assessment models.Those of us who already are empowered, and live in empowered nations and societies, mustlead this movement to Inclusion. We must develop strategies to enable us to reach beyond theconfines of economic globalisation, to that sphere where society, culture, economics and 6
  7. 7. politics all intermingle and intersect. We know the answer to terrorism lies not just in policeaction against perpetrators, but in creating a more civil and more secure world, where thebenefits and the opportunities of human civilisation are available far more broadly than theyhave been. The most excluded often live in places where there is no human security and littlehuman development, and therefore no human rights. If economic globalisation is borderless, sois terror. So is ecological degradation. So is smuggling. So is drug trafficking and prostitution.The challenge then is—can we make opportunity borderless? Can we offer the most wretchedof the world some semblance of the life that the most privileged take for granted? We need tocreate identification and empathy between the powerless and the empowered, and this shouldbe a principal focus of our discussion.This endeavour becomes all the more significant in the forthcoming United Nations Year ofHuman Rights Learning, enacted by a resolution of the General Assembly led by Benin. Therecent political campaign in the United States compellingly demonstrated that the globalhyperpower is much more keenly aware of the importance of partnership and collaboration,and of the foundations of the global order that need to be rooted in justice, inclusion, pluralismand dignity – the key components of a culture of human rights.We need to give due consideration of every aspect of society and culture, if the benefits ofhuman rights learning, and the establishment of a culture of human rights, can be extended toa far greater proportion of the world’s people. Especially in the current international climate,we must sharply delineate the difference between traditional notions of global governance andthe emerging creed of human rights, human security and human development as the mostdesirable basis of relations between countries and peoples. All three of those depend on astrong foundation of economic development and equitable access to economic opportunity andresources.Human rights are ultimately the foundation of civil society, and without them, no society cantruly flourish, no matter how rich its economy. The root of this freedom is non-violence,the grand concept championed by M.K. Gandhi. In its essence, non-violence is the freedom tobe safe. Without this freedom, we cannot stimulate human rights learning. Thus freedom fromfear becomes not only the essential precondition, but the FIRST GREAT HUMAN RIGHTSLEARNING! We have not done nearly enough to address the persistence of poverty, nor havewe addressed the growing gap between rich and poor both at home and in the world. It is bysetting our domestic house in order—by ensuring that human rights, human dignity and humansecurity are extended to all our citizens – that we will better prepare ourselves to assert globalleadership in crafting a more civil world.-- 7
  8. 8. Satya Das is an experienced opinion leader, a noted policy advisor, economic analyst, and geopoliticalstrategist, with more than 25 years of public policy experience in his previous career as an editorialist ,newspaper columnist, and national commentator. As a founder and principal in Cambridge StrategiesInc. since 2001, he has advised at the most senior levels of the Canadian and regional governments ongovernance issues, policy development, strategic planning and economic policy. His volunteer time iscommitted to human rights, community building and a host of cultural endeavours, and has brought himmany awards including the Alberta Human Rights Award and the Alberta Centennial Medal. He is authorof two acclaimed books, Dispatches from a Borderless World (1999) and The Best Country: Why CanadaWill Lead the Future (2002); chapters in several edited volumes and articles in scholarly publicationsincluding Canada’s Supreme Court Law Review. 8